(Aerial view of downtown Colorado Springs and Pikes Peak in the background.)
on screen text: state of the city 2020. A booming economy ...
(inside of deep underground stormwater filtering system. road crews paving a roadway with fresh blacktop behind them)
on screen text: investment in city infrastructure...
(various shots of busy roadways and businesses)
on screen text: low unemployment...
(views of the Colorado Springs Airport, Mayor Suthers and others dressed in period clothing from the the founding of Colorado Springs )
on screen text: unprecedented progress, all came to a halt because of COVID-19.
(view of downtown Colorado Springs looking to the northeast)
on screen text: but some things ever stopped
(silhouettes of people wearing masks. Inside the mask video shows through of different city scenes and city employees working.)
on screen text: essential city services, collaboration, support for small businesses, community compassion, new development, outdoor recreation. We are resilient, caring, determined, strong, beautiful. We are Colorado Springs, Olympic City USA.
Watch the State of the City
Read the Full State of the City Address
Good morning ladies and gentlemen. Thank you to those present, and those watching online or on SpringsTV for your interest in my 6th State of the City address as Mayor of Colorado Springs. My thanks also to the Colorado Springs Chamber and EDC, and today’s event sponsors for assisting me to fulfill my responsibility to make an annual report to our citizens.
We gather today in the 149th year since the founding of Colorado Springs and in anticipation of our celebration of the city’s sesquicentennial on July 31 of next year. Now there are many cities in our country that are at least 150 years old. And many that are much older. But Colorado Springs is unique in many ways.
Let me read a passage from a State of the City address given by one of my predecessors, Mayor John Robinson, who served as mayor from 1899 to 1902. He described our city’s uniqueness this way;
“The genesis and evolution of Colorado Springs differ materially from most, if not all, cities located upon the American frontier. In selecting the site of modern cities, commercial advantages alone control in nearly every instance. Proximity to industrial fields, waterways and railroads are the prime considerations. While these conditions, no doubt, entered into the calculations in deciding the selection of the site of Colorado Springs, it was aesthetic considerations that controlled the decision. The beauty of the location appealed irresistibly to its founders. When the town was located, there was little prospect of adjacent agricultural development. Stock raising could not be expected to build the town. No coal had been discovered and only rumors of gold had induced a few to cross the plains. But the mountains and plains were here in ideal relations, overarched by heavens of blue, tinted into a thousand changing colors by the sun, and flecked with shadows of fleeting clouds carried before the shifting currents of the pure, health -giving breezes.”
“Few cities have made the progress and kept so closely to high ideals as has the city of Colorado Springs. From its founding until the present hour, there has been before the minds of its builders the vision of a city of beauty, culture, righteousness and healthfulness - a city, in brief, where in the words of Aristotle, Men may live a common life for a noble end.”
That’s how Mayor Robinson described the state of our city when it was just 30 years old. While much of our uniqueness as a city has not changed, in the intervening 120 years Colorado Springs has grown from 21,000 people to 485,000 people, the 39th largest city in America. With that in mind, let’s turn to the state of our wonderfully unique city today.
Five years ago, in my first State of the City address, I described the state of the city as good, but the potential of our city as great. In the ensuing years I have described a city relentlessly moving on a path forward to take its place among the great cities of America. Today, I will also describe our city as resilient, among the most resilient in the country, and assert that such resiliency is the hallmark of a great city.
History tells us Colorado Springs has survived great fires and great floods, the end of a gold mining boom, the great depression, the great recession and other natural and manmade calamities. And as we meet today, we are in the midst of a “worldwide pandemic.”
After five years of historic prosperity in which we created 40,000 new jobs and reduced our unemployment rate to below 3%, and during which we overcame a billion dollar infrastructure deficit in our roads and stormwater systems and induced massive private investment in our city, our economy came to a sudden halt in March. 200,000 Americans have died of COVID, including 2,000 in Colorado and 160 here in El Paso County. 40 million Americans lost their jobs. Our local unemployment rate went from 3% to 12.6% in 45 days. A stay at home order left much of our economy closed down for two months. City tax revenues plummeted 14% in March and 22% in April. Traffic at our airport declined at one point by 90%. In short, we had all the ingredients of a complete economic collapse. But that’s where resiliency took over.
Through the leadership of Governor Polis, Colorado opened its economy sooner than many states and yet has done so at an appropriate pace. Through the leadership of local governments and the El Paso County Department of Health various aspects of our local economy were able to safely open and we have been able to effectively respond to increases in COVID cases without reverting to shutting down the economy. Our local hospitals, health care clinics and health care professionals have done outstanding work in helping us succeed. In addition to federal Cares Act funding, local businesses and non-profits were able to receive support from local philanthropy including Survive and Thrive, Pikes Peak Community Foundation, Downtown Partnership, Colorado Springs Health Foundation and the El Pomar Foundation. But the ultimate reason why El Paso County was able to resume economic activity as soon and as safely as it has was the overwhelming cooperation of its citizens. While we are 12.5% of the state population, because of our citizen’s compliance with health orders and social distancing, mask wearing and other precautions, we’ve been a smaller proportion of the statewide COVID cases, hospitalizations and deaths. And while we’ve continued to be very protective of our most vulnerable citizens, most of us have enthusiastically rejoined the economy by patronizing our retail and restaurant establishments. Construction has continued at record levels. As a result of a broad community effort our local economic recovery is among the very best in the country. City revenue in June and July met or exceeded last year’s levels. Tourism, while significantly below last year’s levels, has been the best in the country in the late summer, spurred largely by visitors who drove to the Pikes Peak region.
To be sure we have a long way to go to fully recover from this pandemic, (the very limited personal attendance allowed at this event demonstrates that), but we are moving forward toward that goal.
While the City revenue losses are significant and could adversely impact the provision of essential city services, we have carefully monitored and managed the revenue losses to minimize the impact on the public. We cut $22 million from our 2020 budget. We imposed a hiring freeze that has resulted in the City having over 200 less employees than a year ago. We deferred large capital projects. And we’ve responsibly used funds made available by Congress, through the CARES Act, including $37.5 million made available through the El Paso County Commissioners.
But we are also asking the citizens of Colorado Springs to help us avoid a reduction in City services for several years to come through a ballot measure on the November ballot. Under Colorado’s Taxpayer Bill of Rights when a City‘s revenue declines in a particular year, the base from which future growth in revenue is allowed also declines. This is called the TABOR “ratchet down” and is very problematic if there is a significant decline in revenue in a particular year, as there will be for 2020. Let me demonstrate this with an example. Assume the City had $300 million in revenue in 2019. But because of the COVID epidemic has a 10% decline in revenue to $270 million in 2020. The TABOR base would also decline to $270 million and could only grow annually from there by inflation plus a calculation called construction minus destruction. Over the last few years, for example, the average allowable growth rate in revenues is about 3%. So in our example, in 2021 and subsequent years, city revenue can only grow from the $270 million base by 3% per year. The result is that it will take three to four years for the City to get back to its 2019 base of $300 million. This is true even if the economy recovers fairly quickly and population growth places even greater demand on City services. For this reason the City Council and I are asking the voters in Issue 2A to let us counteract the significant COVID caused revenue loss by allowing us to utilize the 2019 revenue base rather than the 2020 base from which to grow from in 2021 and future years. To be absolutely clear, while this would allow the City to recover more quickly, it does not involve any tax increase whatsoever.
As you know, resiliency was also needed in other respects this past year. In May, as we were beginning to reopen our economy after the COVID shutdown, a case of police brutality in Minneapolis rocked our nation with ramifications for every large city. Many cities experienced riots and extensive property damage. But Colorado Springs was blessed to have the vast majority of protestors focused on their cause and dedicated to lawfully exercising their First Amendment rights, as well as a police department focused on protecting their right to do so, while also protecting all our citizens and their property. The peaceful protests and the meaningful community dialogue that has resulted, including a Law Enforcement Accountability Commission, is a real testament to our community’s resiliency.
As we continue to recover from the economic crisis brought on by the pandemic there is much to look forward to. The evidence of unprecedented levels of public and private investment in our city can be seen all around us. Perhaps none is more exciting than watching the long awaited City for Champions projects become a reality.
The U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Museum and Hall of Fame opened on July 30th . This iconic structure is a state of the art technological experience and will be a huge draw for people from near and far to visit Olympic City, USA and experience the Olympic movement.
And for sports fans like myself, you can’t help but be excited about our downtown doubleheader, an outdoor stadium just blocks from the Olympic Museum and the Robson Arena on the Colorado College campus. The stadium will be completed next spring. It will be home to the Colorado Springs Switchbacks and a venue for other sports and community events. We’ve already booked the 2021 NCAA Division II Soccer Championship. And just imagine a summertime concert under the stars.
The Robson Arena will be the home of the Colorado College hockey team, beginning in 2021, and accessible to many other events including those sponsored by a wide variety of Olympic Governing bodies.
The Hybl Sports Medicine and Performance Center also opened in August on the campus of the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs. A partnership between UCCS and Penrose- St. Francis, it is also a state of the art facility that will attract physicians, researchers, athletes and students to explore human potential for excellence and healing from injury.
A new visitors Center at the Air Force Academy is the final proposed element of the City for Champions projects. Located near the North gate of the Academy with access from I-25, the Visitor Center would be situated in a 59 acre development surrounded by office, hotel, recreational and food amenities. This is the only one of the projects adversely impacted by the COVID crisis. The crisis caused instability in the bond market that made it impossible to sell bonds on schedule in March. We remain hopeful we can accomplish the sale of the bonds by the end of the year.
The Olympic and Paralympic Museum, the outdoor stadium and Robson Arena are just a part of the renaissance of downtown Colorado Springs. This year has seen the addition of several hundred residential units to downtown with many more to come. We’ll complete three new downtown hotels in the next several months with more to come over the next few years. New restaurants and businesses are locating downtown. And in June the City Council, acting as the Utility Board, announced a plan to close the Drake Power Plant by 2023.
But downtown is not the only area of our city experiencing dramatic transformation. The Interquest corridor will see a billion dollars of new projects in the near future. The new ENT Credit Union headquarters will be completed in summer of 2021. Nationally renowned Scheel’s Sporting Goods will open their new store in March of 2021. The long anticipated In and Out Burger restaurant and distribution center will be complete in the next few months. And Penrose- St. Francis remains committed to building a new campus at Interquest and I-25.
Significant development continues at the Colorado Springs Airport in the Peak Innovation Park including the massive Amazon distribution facility currently under construction. These projects will bring thousands of jobs to southeast Colorado Springs.
On the tourism front, exciting things are also happening. The new Summit House on Pikes Peak will open next spring, about the same time as the completion of the remodeled and reconstructed COG Railroad from Manitou Springs to the Summit. Our fundraising campaign for the new Summit House has raised $12.2 out of our goal of $15 million, leaving $2.8 million left to raise. The Broadmoor Hotel has completed a 93,500 square feet addition to its convention space, and the Flying W Ranch has reopened 8 years after being decimated by the Waldo Canyon Fire.
Over the past year, through funding from the Trails and Open Space or TOPS tax, the city has acquired another 341 acres of very strategic parks and open space. Since 2015 we’ve acquired almost 2,000 new acres of parks and open space to meet the recreational needs of future generations of our residents and visitors. In November of last year city voters approved spending $7 million of TABOR retention funds on improvements to our park system, including significant upgrades to our historic downtown parks as part of our sesquicentennial celebration.
In May, Colorado Springs was named the provisional home of U.S. Space Command for the next six years. At the same time the Air Force established a process to select the permanent home of the U.S. Space Command. In June, I nominated, with the support of Governor Polis, Colorado Springs to be the permanent home of Space Command. The Chamber and EDC has taken the lead in the effort. Through the hard work of many people, too numerous to mention, I assure you Colorado Springs will make a very compelling case to the Air Force, DOD and the White House.
As you will recall in previous State of the City addresses, I set forth a goal of facilitating an additional 1,000 units per year of affordable housing in Colorado Springs. The economic prosperity of the Pikes Peak region has impacted housing affordability, with the most impact on our lower income residents. This year we released our Affordable Housing Plan, HomeCOS, that describes the game plan for pursuing that goal. And we are getting closer to reaching it. There are presently 600 units of affordable housing under construction in El Paso County. That includes 242 units of workforce housing at the Barnes Apartments and 258 units of workforce housing at the Creek at Cottonwood Apartments. Pikes Peak Habitat for Humanity, Rocky Mountain Land Trust and El Paso County Housing Authority have worked to provide another 56 new homes for families this year. There is also another 1100 units of affordable housing on the drawing board.
Our City’s 2019 Homelessness Initiative has also made significant progress since its’ implementation. We’ve expanded our low barrier shelter bed capacity to 750, including our first low barrier family shelter. With daily vacancies in the triple digits, we can now confidently say that we have an adequate amount of shelter beds in our community. If you are in need of shelter in our community, there is a safe place for you. Just this morning we celebrated strategic expansion of the Springs Rescue Mission with the opening of a full service kitchen.
We’ve increased street outreach, increased illegal camping enforcement and camp cleanups, and created the Pikes Peak Veterans Housing Fund. Notably our annual point in time count of people experiencing homelessness showed that our unsheltered population went down by nearly 20% to the lowest number since 2016.
I’ve always been proud of our City employees, but never more so than this year. As we’ve worked through the COVID crisis and deal with steep and sudden declines in revenue, we’ve seen resiliency, creativity and determination from City employees. In an atmosphere of animosity by some against police, our police department has responded with great professionalism. We’ve got an outstanding police department and the vast majority of our city’s residents strongly support their police.
We’ve got great City employees, and they’re represented here today by several department heads including Chief of Staff Jeff Greene, Police Chief Vince Niski and Fire Chief Ted Collas. And a special shout out to the City’s Chief Financial Officer, Charae McDaniel, who has spent untold hours and effort guiding us through this financial crisis. And my thanks also to Director of Utilities, Aram Benyamin, who has been a great partner in moving our city forward. Would all the City and Utilities employees here please stand so we can show our appreciation.
And then of course there is the public service of our City Councilmembers who serve as the legislative branch of city government and as the Board of Directors of Colorado Springs Utilities. The Councilmembers put in close to full time hours for compensation that amounts to gas money. With the collaboration of the Council we’ve accomplished so much over the last five and a half years. We’ve dug the city out of a billion dollar public infrastructure deficit and put it on a remarkable path of transformational change. It would not have been accomplished without the support of the City Council.
My heartfelt thanks to Council President Richard Skorman, President Pro-tem Tom Strand and Councilmembers Jill Gaebler, Don Knight, Andy Pico, Bill Murray, Yolanda Avila, David Geislinger and Wayne Williams. Please stand so we can recognize those of you who are present.
Three of our Councilmembers are term limited and will be going off the Council in April of next year. They are Jill Gaebler, Don Knight and Andy Pico and I want to say a special word about them. Frankly, their first two years on Council were pretty rough. Political dysfunction between the Mayor’s Office and Council prevented the City from addressing some of its major challenges. But since I was elected in 2015 they have joined me in a spirit of political collaboration that has led us to accomplish more than many of us could have reasonably envisioned. So I want to extend my personal thanks to Jill, Don and Andy and ask them to stand one more time so we can thank them for their eight years of outstanding public service to Colorado Springs.
And speaking of people who have to put up with a lot, my heartfelt thanks to my wife, Janet, whose love and support has helped me navigate the highs and lows of public service and life in general. And my thanks to Janet, Doug Price and numerous volunteers and contributors who have spearheaded the Olympic City USA branding effort.
Ladies and gentlemen, just as those that have gone before us have faced challenges and overcome them, it is our time to do so. And we are doing just that. And we’re making history in the process. As I’ve said before in my State of the City addresses, we must never think of history only in the past tense and lose sight of the fact that we are presently engaged in the task of making it. Despite the difficult challenges the last year has brought, including a worldwide pandemic that has impacted our economy, Colorado Springs has proven itself resilient and prepared to move forward towards our city’s 150th birthday and beyond. We are prepared to relentlessly pursue the vision of General Palmer that Colorado Springs would always be a unique place. Not just a commercial crossroads, not just a city built by fortune seekers, but a city where its citizen’s everyday embrace the challenge to continue to build a city that matches our scenery – a shining city at the foot of a great mountain. Thank you, and may God bless America and the City of Colorado Springs.
View of download the PowerPoint presentation
Lifetime Achievement Award
Bill Hybl was awarded the Spirit of the Springs Lifetime Achievement Award.
Spirit of the Springs Award
Mayor Suthers also recognized three leaders from El Paso County Public Health with a Spirit of the Springs Celebration Award for their work during the COVID-19 pandemic. He presented the award to Susan Wheelan, Director; Dr. Robin Johnson, Medical Director; and Dr. Leon Kelly, Deputy Medical Director for their collective effort to protect, inform and educate the community:
“The city is grateful to the leaders of El Paso County Public Health for their swift response to this pandemic, their emphasis on collaboration these past few months and their contribution to our overall resiliency during this difficult time,” said Mayor John Suthers. “This is a small way of showing our appreciation for their critical work.”